Broadway Review: Soul Doctor

 Posted by on September 10, 2013 at 8:41 am  Mad Men
Sep 102013

shlomoOver the weekend I saw Soul Doctor with my mom and stepfather.

This is the musical telling of the journey of Shlomo Carelbach, guitar-playing Rabbi.

On the one hand, this is not a strong show. I suspect this can be attributed to the fact that the director is also the writer of the book–this can lead to trouble. Someone needed to bring a strong editing eye to it; cut it and rearrange it. It is too long, kind of all over the place, a bit depressing–it’s hard to tell a story with heavy subject matter and hit the right emotional notes; be moving and NOT depressing, but it can be achieved.

I didn’t love a lot of the music, as musical theater goes–most of it was not memorable. Shlomo’s songs as Shlomo were the best, and the portrayal of Nina Simone was outstanding–those were the strongest scenes.

On the other hand, Shlomo Carlebach came to our temple when I was about 10 years old. He performed for us and with us–it was a beautiful experience. I’ve never forgotten him; neither has my mom. We were enthralled, all of us (even the two of us who did not experience the man) to see this portrayal.

(And now I’m asking myself–when did I get my first guitar? I know I decided when I was 6-7 that I wanted to play guitar, and I was around 10 when I got it, so I’m wondering where seeing the gregarious yet gentle bard fit into my personal timeline.)

It seems like the show did incorporate a few of his actual songs, though I wasn’t clear on that from the program–maybe I missed it though. Certainly a few felt like him, and they were the better musical moments. I shall now make a point of familiarizing myself with his actual music. Here, you’re welcome to do the same. They are entirely uplifting, whether you understand a word or not.

The show simply focused on things that didn’t need focus and didn’t follow through on things that could have been amazing. We can’t quite figure out why there was no mention of the fact that he did go on to have a wife and child, when there was scene after scene about how he should do just that.

This review echoed a lot of what we experienced, albeit a bit more harshly–we did very much enjoy this show. Turns out some very basic facts are wrong, and we can’t figure out why they made those changes. For example, he wasn’t from Austria; he was from Berlin. This, though, captures best what was missing for me:

“….not only takes a dramatic amount of license with Shlomo’s life but also misses most of what made him so popular. The rabbi’s charisma is more asserted than demonstrated, and his breakthroughs—the insights that led him to combine folk music with liturgy, the hard work that went into his songwriting—are entirely ignored. In Mr. Wise’s conception, Shlomo is a passive participant in his own life.”

So the conclusion is, I didn’t think it was great storytelling, but I was so happy to see the story told; to get a glimpse of what I remember, it was enjoyable. And the performances were terrific!!!

And let’s face it; Jews love seeing the portrayal of Judaism. This thing is no Fiddler, but it is a pleasure to experience this texture; to see it onstage.


  2 Responses to “Broadway Review: Soul Doctor”

  1. I went to Israel in 1982 as part of a youth program (I won the trip, there was no way my parents could’ve afforded it, but that’s another story). During one of our Jerusalem weekends, we had the choice of spending the day at Rabbi Carlbach’s house or going somewhere else( I don’t even remember where at this point).

    We, being 17-year-olds away from home and heady with freedom, wanted a free day. Our counselor convinced us of how special an opportunity this was; i.e. she made the unilateral decision of what we were going to do.

    I can honestly say that the Shabbos afternoon spent with Reb Shlomo changed me in ways that I still feel today. The music, the passion, the connection of religion to his soul (as opposed to being religious because that’s what you were supposed to do)!

    I came from an Orthodox background and had never realized HOW MANY of the songs we sang in Hebrew school were his tunes. Dozens upon dozens.

    And although it was Bruce and Melissa that inspired me to pick up a guitar, one of my first songbooks was Reb Shlomo’s.

    Now, when they get around to a musical about Debbie Friedman, THEN we can talk (or sing, as the case may be)!

  2. The klezmer band in which I’m an accordionist plays a lot of his music … Klezmercuse…look us up the next time you’re around. And the Reform synagogue my family belongs to (and the camp my kid went to for years!) is part of the Debbie Friedman team..altho the pianist in my band composes a lot of music and the temple is using most of his music now…

    And now back to our regularly scheduled discussion… 🙂

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